Dundee City Council closes Camperdown Golf Course

The SNP Administration pushed through the closure of Camperdown Golf Course at the meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee on Monday evening.

You can read the flimsy report calling for the closure of Camperdown Golf Course here from the marked page 153 onwards.  Six flimsy pages which beg more questions than they answer closed Camperdown Golf Course after sixty years.

I moved an amendment which said that the closure should not happen unless a lot more work was done to provide more information.

Let’s be very very clear.  Leisure & Culture Dundee operate Camperdown Golf Course on behalf of Dundee City Council.  The council currently pays them a management fee to operate the course and the other facilities which the City Council has delegated to them.  Leisure and Culture are perfectly within their rights to come to the council and say that they cannot continue to operate the golf course.

However, that means that Dundee City Council had to make the decision.  It was the decision of Dundee City Council's Policy & Resources Committee which decided whether Camperdown Golf Course closed or not.

The report presented to the committee was totally inadequate.  It does not demonstrate that every avenue has been looked at.  It makes statements and offers no evidence.

The Director of Leisure & Culture and the Chief Executive accepted that the Equality Impact Assessments could be better.  These are integral to the decision making process it is a disgrace that this decision was forced through after this was said.

I feel sorry for Camperdown Golf Course elsewhere in the reports for the meeting we were told that there was a year on year increase in use.  In normal circumstances this would call for a self-congratulatory press release and photo call instead Camperdown Golf Course was marked for closure.

The figure in the report of £440,000 is for all of Golf Dundee’s activities.  What is the actual figure for costs at Camperdown Golf Course the report does not say.

The club captain at Camperdown Golf Club Ian McAlindon spoke eloquently for his members.  They had not been consulted.  They had been told that the course was safe.  He said that he was 'gobsmacked' when he heard that the course was marked for closure.  The report also said that Camperdown Golf Club was in financial difficulty Mr McAlindon said that this was not true.  The report and Mr McAlindon cannot both be right.

This suggests to me that no effective consultation has taken place before such a major decision is made.  Informal discussions as highlighted in paragraph 4.10 of the report do not represent a consultation with other possible providers.

The relevant financial information was not in the report.  Even if you were minded to close Camperdown Golf Course it should not have been done on the basis of this incomplete, flimsy report.  As the Revenue Monitoring Report also presented on Monday evening demonstrated previous schemes to deliver savings have not come off or have not delivered the expected income.

The plans for a golf driving range at Caird Park are interesting but as far as this report is concerned uncosted.  A figure of £80,000 is mentioned but not substantiated.  We cannot assume anything about income or expenditure about this plan.

The hope for the best school of accounting is unacceptable.

Camperdown Park can be and should be an attractive place to visit.  Much has been done in recent years with the new visitor centre at the Wildlife Park and the new play area for example.

We need to develop a refreshed  master plan for the park.  We should note that the then Environment Committee agreed in September 2012 to look at finding a productive use for Camperdown House.  It is unacceptable that seven years on there has been no progress on this.  This should be a priority.  Councillors are the custodians of Camperdown House and Camperdown Park we have a duty to find ways in which Dundonians and visitors can use these great assets.

Being able to visit Camperdown House and perhaps play golf is surely one way of doing this.

I pointed out that some councillors might think that the closure of Camperdown Golf Course will not impact on them.  But by condemning Camperdown Golf Course to closure Dundee City Council set a very unwelcome precedent about the closure of facilities.  Which facility will be next?

There appear to be no guarantees that people who have recently been transferred from Leisure & Culture Dundee employment to maintain the grounds will not be made compulsorily redundant.  

I wanted the council to demonstrate the every option to keep Camperdown Golf Course open.  I wanted to look at at whether the golf course could be brought back in house, whether another provider could be found or whether a community asset transfer could be a solution.  My amendment included these options.  I was delighted when Councillor Lynne Short called for a community asset transfer to be considered I was surprised and slightly confused when Councillor Short then voted to close the golf course.

Monday evening's meeting was not Dundee City Council's finest hour.  The poorly set out proposals were pushed through.   On the basis of the report before the council on Monday evening the very least that was needed was an awful lot more information before such a big decision was made.

Along with my colleagues in the Labour Group I am willing to work with the members of Camperdown Golf Club and the users of Camperdown Golf Course to see if this closure can be stopped.

It is hard to disagree with my colleague Councillor Charlie Malone who said that this is an act of  'cultural vandalism.'


Action needed on 20mph Speed Limits

On Monday evening Dundee City Council's City Development Committee considered a report on the trail 20mph zone in the Glens and Johnston Avenue.  I welcomed that report and I called for more action to promote 20 mph zones in residential areas across the city.

My main concern is that the Glens 20mph zone was intended as a trail to influence future trials and implementation across the city. The 20mph speed limit in the Glens Area was unanimously agreed by this committee as a trial in December 2016.

The recommendation in December 2016 put forward by the Administration and supported by the whole committee was that the Committee

a) ‘notes the outcome from the citywide consultation on 20mph speed limits and endorses its findings.  The findings of this report will be used in bringing forward, where appropriate, future 20mph speed limits across the city; and

b) approves an initial twelve month trial of a 20mph zone ( signed only) around the ‘Glens area.’

It appears to me that the report from Monday has forgotten that this was intended as a trial with a possibility that it might be extended.

The 2016 report recognised that 20mph are not suitable everywhere.  I was asking for a further report on where the lessons learnt in the Glens might be applicable and posing the question of whether 20mph could be the default speed limit within the city.

The City of Edinburgh has taken a decision which makes 20mph the default speed limit in residential areas and I think that at the very least we should be looking to bring forward a report on the feasibility of that.

I was not suggesting that we made a decision on Monday rather that the Executive Director returns to a future meeting with a report which takes forward the spirit of the report unanimously passed by this committee in December 2016.

I was glad to that the Committee unanimously agreed to this proposal and that a further report on 20 mph zones will be brought forward.


Dundee City Council Budget - protecting our future, saving jobs today

The SNP Administration's Budget proposals were voted through at the Budget meeting on Thursday
21 February.  This means that cuts to primary school teachers, to support workers in schools and school budgets were voted through.

I am disappointed that our sensible proposals to protect education spending, to stop the on-going attack on the terms and conditions of council workers and to spend more on health and social care were rejected.  You can read more about our proposals here.

During the debate I spoke in favour of our proposals.

There were many disagreements during the council meeting but there is one thing that the council is still united on.  It remains the policy of Dundee City Council that Dundee needs a better settlement from the Scottish Government.  The council's lobbying has so far fallen on deaf ears.  The budget may well have been passed but we need to keep up the pressure to make sure that, at the very least, next year Dundee gets a fair deal.

Our proposals would have utilised more of the council's reserves.  This is because we are clear that this is the rainy day. There is no point in building up reserves at the same time as cutting jobs and services.

I remain concerned about the on-going attacks on the terms and conditions of the council's workforce.  The Labour Group proposed to delete the proposals to attack the terms and conditions of the workforce.  All the trade unions, who made excellent contributions through their deputations, said that they would be happy to work with the council,  to look at any proposals put forward, but said that they would not agree to plans which hurt workers terms and conditions.  We hear lots of pious talk about the workforce being the council's biggest asset but talk is cheap, it is actions which count.

Labour's proposals would have protected a whole range of voluntary organisations such as Barnardos, Action for Children, One Parent Families and Victim Support among many, many others.  The fact that under 43 different headings in the voluntary sector there was to be a 5% cut shows that there had been very little thought about how this might impact on service delivery.  Instead there was an arbitrary cut of 5% proposed.  We tried to protect this investment, but the SNP voted through this cut.

We also wanted to spend more on Health and Social Care than the SNP.  We proposed an amount targeted at reducing hospital re-admissions and issues around trips and falls.  This would utilise social care workers more effectively and prevent any proposals for split shifts amongst these essential workers.

The SNP put forward proposals to cut funding to Dundee's cultural bodies other than the V & A.  We proposed to continue to support Dundee Heritage Trust, Dundee Science Centre, the DCA and Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre as well as the V & A.  We also proposed extra funding for Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre to allow them to do even more community work.  Given that Dundee prides itself in its cultural activities it is bizarre that these cuts were pushed through.  Remember that this council wanted to be European City of Culture in 2023.

Most importantly our proposals tried to delete all the savings in the education budget.  It is crucial that we give every young person in Dundee the best start in life.  Officers said that these cuts would impact on  the education in our schools.  Our plans would have stopped the 3% cut to school devolved budgets, it would have stopped the rise in prices for school breakfast clubs and preserved the Kick It Kick Off programme.  Our plans would have recognised and valued the work of support staff in our schools.  Instead we will have the situation where Pupil Equity Funding is used inappropriately to cover for cuts in mainstream budgets.  That was called cheating when I was at school.

Our proposals were a budget for the many not the few, a budget which would have protected the future of our city by saving jobs and services.


Attacking terms and conditions of workers

Last night at Dundee City Council's Policy and Resources Committee a report was presented to the committee entitled 'Managing Workforce Change'.  This report was put forward a mere three weeks after it was first raised with the trade unions and it is a thinly veiled attack on the terms and conditions of employees of Dundee City Council.

After listening carefully to the points made by four separate trade union deputations I seconded my colleague Councillor Kevin Keenan in calling for the report to be noted and for there to be meaningful discussions with the trade unions before any such report is brought back to committee.

The council often says that the workforce is the biggest resource that it has and if we truly think that we have a duty to value our workforce. It is unacceptable in my view to refuse to listen to the voice of the workers and to not value their contribution.

To some extent trade union negotiation was taking place in the council chamber last night.  Trade unions had been told, and nobody denied that this was true, that there was no point in negotiating with them as they would disagree with the proposals anyway.  This is not how to carry out negotiations and shows bad faith from the start.  It also begs the question, who sanctioned this policy?  Was it only officers or was it the administration?  In either case it also begs the question of who is in charge?

We were told last night that this was not about implementing a policy soon it was about opening up opportunities to do things differently.  Why the indecent haste to implement the policy then?  If it is not about being able to do things soon why not talk about the proposals with the trade unions..

The whole approach strikes me as counterproductive.  At the trade union demonstration on Saturday I heard about the willingness of social care workers to take strike action.  It seems to me that the council is keen on such a confrontation.  This is not in anyone's interests.

If officers and the SNP Administration are so convinced that the proposals that they put forward last night are correct what are they frightened of in discussing them further with the workforce and their trade unions.

Underlying the whole debate is the threat of compulsory redundancies. I am clear that council leaders over a number of years have clearly stated that the policy of the council is a policy of no compulsory redundancies.  This was denied last night, but it was instructive that the council's chief legal officer was unable to agree with the Convener that the council did not have a policy of no compulsory redundancies.  We were told that there was no intention to use compulsory redundancies but if that is the case what is the necessity to state an openness to that policy now.

Finally, this policy was first shown to the trade unions on 24 January and three weeks  later was debated in committee  Why the haste?  Is this to be the new norm with regard to policy development.  Frankly, for a number of issues in the West End the ability to turn around policy is closer to three years than three weeks.  Again I say, why the haste?

Dundee City Council should value its workforce and be exemplars in terms of employment practice.  Last night Dundee City Council was, sadly, very far from that.


Call for Dundee City Council to Sign Up to Fair Hospitality Charter

As Dundee Labour’s spokesperson on City Development I am calling on Dundee City Council to sign up to Unite the Union's Fair Hospitality Charter and to consider such matters as how a business is run when deciding to sell or let council properties to companies.

We have seen reports of employees in the hospitality sector being very poorly treated in Dundee recently. I believe that Dundee City Council as the landlord for many hospitality businesses and indeed as the licensing authority should be looking for ways in which it can ensure best practice in the hospitality sector. I believe that a very useful starting point would be for Dundee City Council to sign up to support Unite the Union's Fair Hospitality Charter. I have requested that officers of the council find a way to allow me to put this forward to the council as a matter of urgency. The Labour Group are very clear that those working in the hospitality sector should be treated fairly.

Dundee City Council is the landlord of a number of properties where pubs, restaurants and cafes operate. I do not think that it is good enough for Dundee City Council to merely say that we only have a financial relationship with these organisations. If that is the case what other sorts of business would we tolerate? I think that the council wants to develop Dundee as a visitor destination if that is so then we need to make sure that the hospitality sector is a good employer. I want to investigate whether there are any ways in which the licensing board could include whether a bar or restaurant was a fair employer into its deliberations over licenses, or at the very least bring the Charter to the attention of all licensees and ask them how they measure up to the Charter.

Dundee City Council has already signed up to the Fair Work Charter and as part of that process the council said that it would 'lead by example' and 'use our influence to encourage other employers in the city to develop similar Fair Work Charters.' I believe that supporting the Fair Hospitality Charter gives Dundee City Council the opportunity to demonstrate that the previous commitment was not merely warm words but a genuine commitment to making the economy of Dundee fairer.

The Labour Group on Dundee City Council is very pro-business, we are for businesses which pay their workers well and treat them fairly. We want to create a city where everyone is treated fairly and rewarded for their work at an agreed rate and on time. I hope that Dundee City Council will sign up to the Fair Hospitality Charter before too long.


Michelin Plant Announcement

After hearing about the announcement of the closure of the Michelin factory in Dundee as Dundee Labour's spokesperson on City Development I have said that, ‘This is devastating news for the workforce at Michelin, and all our thoughts must be with them and their families at this very difficult time.  The Labour Group will be working with the workforce and their trade unions, especially Unite, to try and convince the company to think again.'
'We will work with anyone with the best interests of Dundee at heart to look to find solutions which protect jobs in Dundee. Dundee City Council, the Scottish Government and the UK Government need to put Dundee first and find solutions for Dundee that protect manufacturing jobs in our city.  We will put Dundee first and prioritise jobs for Dundee.'
'We will be working with Unite the Union and with anyone else who can help to try and protect jobs and retain manufacturing in Dundee.'


Nowhere to hide for Modern Slavery in our Supply Chains

I was very happy to move the motion at the Policy & Resources Committee meeting this week committing Dundee City Council to sign up to the Co-operative Party's Charter Against Modern Slavery.  I was delighted that the council spoke with one voice on this very important issue.

This is an area where there has been broad cross-party agreement.  The main piece of legislation in Scotland, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act started life a members’ bill promoted by my friend and colleague Jenny Marra MSP, it was then taken on by the Scottish Government and passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.

This charter supported by the council has been agreed to across the United Kingdom and was previously unanimously passed by the City of Edinburgh Council.

I know that some people might say that this is not an issue here.  That there are no modern day slaves in Dundee.  The truth is that we do not know that.  What is clear is that police and other agencies are giving this area of work greater scrutiny and this has led to a dramatic rise in the number of referrals.  In the last year where figures are available there was a 42% increase in referrals to Police Scotland. 

I know that many people think of people trafficked for sexual exploitation when discussing this issue but the biggest increase in the Police Scotland figures are a 64% increase in the number of people involved in suspected labour exploitation with over half of those victims being male.

Police Scotland and the Scottish Government are seeking to raise the profile of this crime and protect people from exploitation.

This is what this motion which I put forward sought to do.  Some of the actions are already done by the council but the aim of the charter is to bring this work together and raise its profile.

Fundamentally, we all have a duty to show a concern for how things are produced whether in our daily shopping or in the council letting contracts.  I hope that we are clear that the bottom line should not be the sole deciding factor in letting a contract we should be wary of contracts that are too low and we need to be as certain as we can that our supply chains do not include modern slavery.

I was delighted that there was unanimous cross-party support for the charter and that the City Council sent a very clear message that there is no hiding place for modern slavery in our supply chains.

Removal of Freedom of the City of Dundee from Aung San Suu Kyi

Last week I spoke in the council debate on removing Aung San Suu Kyi from the list of people who have received the Freedom of the City of Dundee.

It was with some sadness that I rose to speak in support of removing the grant of the Freedom of the City from Aung San Suu Kyi.

As an Amnesty International member I was pleased to listen to a deputation from the local Amnesty International group at the meeting on Monday evening.

When Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Freedom of the City I spoke in favour of her receiving the Freedom of the City at the Council meeting that night.

Unfortunately, things have not worked out as we would have thought they would.

The treatment of the Rohingya people is an international disgrace

The world watched in shock as well over half a million people fled an intense campaign of violence in Myanmar that was systematic, organised and ruthless. The Myanmar military killed Rohingya women, men and children, raped Rohingya women and girls, and burnt entire Rohingya villages.

Those who stay behind are still at risk, Myanmar’s authorities are restricting their access to lifesaving humanitarian aid and assistance. They continue to live under a system of institutionalised discrimination and segregation which amounts to apartheid.

The Myanmar authorities are trying to stop the world from seeing what’s actually happening on the ground.

Aung San Suu Kyi may not be able to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people but she could have stood up for them more.

Sadly, therefore, I supported the moves to remove Aung San Suu Kyi from the list of those who have the Freedom of the City of Dundee.

The treatment of the Rohingya people cannot be justified and discriminating on the grounds of creed or ethnicity is deplorable.

I was appalled to hear that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had not even had the decency to reply to the letters sent to them from the council asking about human rights abuses in Myanmar.

We should also send a clear message that we expect the ethnic cleansing to stop.  Please consider signing the Amnesty International petition against the violence against the Rohingya people. 


Macmillan Cancer Information & Support Service launched in Central Library

I was pleased to get along the launch of the Macmillan Cancer Information & Support Service

People affected by cancer in Dundee now have access to much needed cancer information and support in libraries, following the opening of a new service in the city’s Central Library at the Wellgate Centre.  As the lead trustee for Library and Information services on the Leisure and Culture Dundee board I was pleased to attend this important event.

Macmillan Cancer Support has invested around £200,000 and is working with Leisure & Culture Dundee to provide three new cancer information and support drop in services in Libraries across Dundee. The first to open is the service in Central Library.

The new Macmillan Cancer Information & Support service will be run by a group of highly trained volunteers who can provide emotional and practical advice, access to information materials on various types of cancer and its treatment, or simply a listening ear. As well as specialist cancer information and emotional support, the service can refer people onto other services, including benefits advice and help to get active.

This is an excellent initiative and it is further proof of the great work being done in libraries across Dundee.  I hope that these initiatives from Macmillan in conjunction with Leisure & Culture Dundee make a difference to the lives of people impacted by cancer.


Call for an end to routine movement of fire service resources

The Chief Fire Officer, the Chair of SFRS and
the Minister for Community safety at the meeting in Dundee
Last week I attended the Scottish Fire and
 Rescue Annual Review meeting with the Minister for Community Safety held in Dundee. I took the opportunity to ask two questions one about the routine movement of resources from Dundee to Aberdeen and the second one about the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service's response to the problem of Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals.

In the council chamber recently I was happy to second Councillor Michael Marra in our attempt to make representations the Scottish Government about the ongoing problem of fire resources being routinely moved from Dundee to Aberdeen.

At the recent meeting at West Park I took the opportunity to ask about this at the meeting of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board with the Minister for Community Safety, as did the Fire Brigades Union. I was glad to hear the response that was received, when the Chief Fire Officer apologised and said that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had got work force planning wrong in Aberdeen. I was also pleased to hear the Chair of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board, Dr Kirsty Derwent, say that such redeployment will not become ‘routine’. These reassurances are good and I was pleased that the Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham heard the questions and the answers. I will be looking for the Scottish Government to provide the resources which allow the Chief Officer and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board to deliver on these promises.

Nobody is saying that there should not be a pooling of resources in emergencies, indeed I believe that there were resources from outside of Dundee at the recent major fires in Dundee, but it cannot become routine. The correct level of cover should be maintained in Dundee, and indeed in Aberdeen, at all times.

I also took the opportunity to ask about what more could be done to prevent Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals. Many of these come from institutions like student residences and hospitals. In Dundee many of these institutions are found in the West End ward. I want to reduce the number of Unwanted Fire Alarms because fire appliances responding to these calls under blue-light conditions put firefighters and the public at risk, it also costs money that could be better used. I know that there is a lot of work going on to reduce the number of Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals but I am concerned that we do not go down the road of cutting back in the response. We need to be sure that the response is always appropriate to the level of risk which hospitals and student residences create. There are many measures that could be taken to prevent many of these calls but reducing the response and putting people's safety at risk to save money is not acceptable.

I asked if more could be done in terms of building regulations and the regulations around renting property to make sure that the latest technology was being used to detect fire and allow firefighters to be more certain that they are responding to a real fire. There is more that can be done and hope that the minister will reflect on this and act accordingly.


Support for Michelin workforce

As Labour’s City Development spokesperson in Dundee I am calling on the city to work together to protect jobs at the Michelin factory in Dundee.

I was disappointed to hear the news that jobs were under threat at the Michelin Factory in Dundee. The whole city must unite behind this factory and its workforce and look for ways to support the retention of as many jobs as possible.

I will be speaking to officers from the City Council to make sure that the company and the workforce receive as much support from the council as is possible. I will be looking to meet with the trade unions to discuss what can be done to support the jobs at Michelin. I will also seek to work with the company to hear about anything that Dundee City Council, the Scottish or UK Governments can do to assist the factory.

Protecting these jobs must become a priority for everyone with the best interests of our city at heart. I call on all elected representatives to work together to protect these jobs.


Time to open up Camperdown House

Camperdown House open during 
the Flower and Food Festival

calling for Dundee City Council to work to develop a long-term sustainable use for Camperdown House.  Last weekend I joined thousands of others visiting Camperdown House after it was briefly open over the weekend at the Flower and Food Festival.

It is time that we found a long-term sustainable use for Camperdown House.  I was delighted to join many other people visiting the house at the Flower and Food Festival.  It was good to get the chance to visit the house but it is a shame that it is open so infrequently.  I am looking forward to opening of the V & A in two weeks time, the investment in culture there is very welcome I would now like to see attention turn to the future of Camperdown House.

Camperdown House represents an important part of the history of our city and of the United Kingdom.  Camperdown House belongs to the people of Dundee and those who are its current custodians should be looking for a long-term sustainable public use for Camperdown House.

Dundee and Angus College did a great job running a cafe in the house recently and I think that this sort of training facility is a way forward for the house.  I am urging Dundee City Council to look to work with partners to deliver a public use for Camperdown House which allows the people of Dundee to access the house.  I know that there are proposals in the Tay Cities Deal which could deliver this but whatever the outcome of the long-delayed Tay Cities Deal I want to see action to bring Camperdown House back into regular use.

I think there are a number of uses that Camperdown House could be put to but it is important that whatever becomes of the house that an element of free public access that says something about the history of the house and estate is retained.

Camperdown House belongs to the people of Dundee it is time that they got to enjoy visiting it on a regular basis.
I was pleased to speak to members of the McManus 168 group 
inside Camperdown House at the weekend


Call for new Justice Secretary and new Chief Constable to maintain and improve Ryehill Police Station

Previously I joined Jenny Marra MSP and other local people calling for our Police Station to stay

I have written to the new Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP over the future of Ryehill Police Station in the West End ward.  Police Scotland have previously suggested closing the station and whilst it has gained a temporary reprieve I am looking for the new Justice Secretary to back up the new Chief Constable’s commitment to localism by committing to maintaining the police presence at Ryehill and indeed improving it.

In response to the voice of local people Ryehill Police Station received a reprieve but there has never been a long-term commitment to maintaining the police presence in the West End.  I have written to the new Justice Secretary raising this issue with him and asking that there is a new look at this.  I hope that Humza Yousaf will see the need to maintain local police resources and will support the people of the West End in their call for an effective police presence at Ryehill to serve the West End.

I welcome the new Chief Constable to his post and I note his commitment to local solutions.  I think with this in mind he should look at the need to maintain and indeed enhance the police presence at Ryehill.  I have written to him welcoming him to his new post and wishing him well in it and asking for a long-term commitment to maintaining the police station at Ryehill.

Events over the last few days have made the case for an improved police presence at Ryehill.  On Sunday the bookmakers just a few metres from the police station was subject to a robbery.  Surely,  a stronger police presence at Ryehill would have acted as a deterrent in this case.

I do not just want Police Scotland to keep the station open but it is important that a public-facing service is available to the people of the West End.  I am maintaining my call not just for Police Scotland to keep ownership of Ryehill Police Station but for an improved service which regularly interacts with the public and is clearly the place where the public should make first contact with the police.  I hope that the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the new Chief Constable will agree with me.

Where is the City Deal?

I am concerned and frustrated about the lack of progress on the Tay Cities Deal.  I am a member of the Tay Cities Region Joint committee and  I was surprised to learn that the meeting that was scheduled for 24th August was cancelled.

I am happy to be a member of the Tay Cities Region Joint Committee it is a good example of politicians working together across party and geographical boundaries with other partners in the interests of people in our area.  I want to see progress on the Tay Cities Deal and I want to see investment in our city and region.  I was surprised to learn that the meeting of the committee scheduled for 24th August was cancelled and a meeting is now scheduled for September.

We need to see progress on the deal.  This is not good enough.  In recent weeks we have seen the unedifying sight of both the UK and Scottish Governments engaging in a pointless blame game before the deal is even published.  UK and Scottish ministers might enjoy their political games but I am looking for the Tay Cities Deal to invest in jobs for Dundee.  Jobs for Dundee is what I want to see.  We need action rather than posturing and we need a deal which benefits the people of Dundee and the wider Tay Cities region.

I hope that by the time the committee eventually meets that there is something positive to report about Tay Cities Deal.  We have been waiting too long for this, we need action and we need to get it right for the people of Dundee.  I am looking for a deal which delivers jobs and investment for Dundee and the surrounding area and which makes a real difference.

My colleague Councillor Kevin Keenan first called for a city deal for Dundee back in 2013 I fear that we have missed the boat with the delays and prevarication since then.  I am clear that our priority has to be jobs for the people of Dundee.

Call for West End DumpingTask Force

Over the summer I have called on Dundee City Council to set up a task force to combat the situation which happens every summer where large amount of furniture and household goods are dumped in the summer months around the West End as tenancies come to an end in private rented flats.

Every year I get lots of complaints in June, July and August about items of furniture which have been dumped often when tenancies come to an end.  As a local resident I see these items of furniture around the West End.  I have spoken to officers in the Environment Section of Dundee City Council and asked that they look at ways of dealing with this.  I have suggested a task force which is charged with proactively dealing with the problem.  I am clear that there should be no amnesty for people who are responsible for items being dumped and that tenants and landlords should act responsibly and dispose of goods in a responsible fashion.

I am clear though that the people of the West End should not have to put up with excessive amounts of dumped furniture littering our streets.  We need to catch culprits and we need people to behave responsibly but we also need not to punish the rest of the community for the irresponsible actions of a few.  I am pleased to say that I have been told that my idea will be included in a review of the work of the Environment Section and I hope that it will make a difference to  the quality of life of the people of the West End.

Creating and Keeping Community Wealth in Dundee

I am calling on Dundee City Council to use its economic power to promote community wealth building and ensure that investment by the city council and other public bodies in the city benefits the people of Dundee.

This is an exciting year for Dundee, we are seeing some very important developments come to fruition.  It is disappointing that the people of Dundee have not received the maximum benefit which they could have from these investments, the contracts goes to large businesses with little staying in the local economy.

I want Dundee City Council to look at what has been done elsewhere in places like Cleveland in the USA and Preston in England.  In those cities the city council decided that they should use their economic clout to make a difference to their communities.  Instead of outsourcing profits and jobs consideration was given as to how money could be kept in the local economy.  

In some respects this is about how contracts are let, making sure that local companies can compete by not making the contracts so big that only multi-national companies can apply for them.  It is about employing local people where possible and about buying from local suppliers where possible.  Often when a business in Dundee goes bust politicians line up to wring their hands and say how terrible it is whilst at the same time supporting a system which stops the local council from spending money locally as the default situation.

This so-called ‘Preston Model’ has been attracting interest and I have written to the City Council Chief Executive asking that he might look at ways in which the policy of the council could be changed to build local wealth.  John McDonnell MP has committed a future Labour Government to working on this agenda.  You can read more about this in the Co-operative Party pamphlet about it.


'Failures in Fundamental Controls' - Report on Fraud at Dundee City Council

Regular readers will remember the case of former Dundee City Council employee Mark Conway who stole over £1 million from Dundee City Council.  Monday evening's meeting of the City Council dealt with  a report produced by the Accounts Commission on this.
This is a report which every councillor and every citizen of Dundee should  be very very concerned about.
We need to start by being clear that one person, Mark Conway, is guilty in this and he was convicted in court.  But we should also be very concerned about a report which says that 'failures in fundamental controls within the council allowed this fraud to continue over a prolonged period.'

As a councillor I need to be able to trust the advice that I am given by officers.  I need to know that financial statements are accurate.  The report by the Accounts Commission demonstrates that this has not always been the case.
As councillors we need reassurance from officers that there will be no repeat of this.  We need reassurance that this cannot happen again.  We also need to know why auditors did not pick this up.

We also need a reassurance that council cuts did not contribute to this and allow one member of staff to accumulate a number of permissions and checks and balances were not in place.  The report points out that the individual concerned built up lots of responsibility over the years and was one of very few individuals who understood the systems.  The lack of segregation of duties allowed him to produce fraudulent invoices, pay them and then hide the evidence.  Despite strenuous denials from officers I find it hard to believe that the cuts which have led to fewer and fewer people working for the council did not contribute to this fraud.

At the Scrutiny Committee I proposed that the committee went further and wrote to the bank and building society concerned and the Treasury as well as the Gambling Commission and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
To say that I am disappointed with the responses would be an understatement.  We expect regulators to assist us.  In this case I feel that we did not get the protection that we could have expected from the banks, building societies, Financial Conduct Authority and the Treasury.  Neither did we get protection from the gambling firm William Hill, the Gambling Commission or DCMS.
In these times of austerity imposed on Dundee City Council by the UK and Scottish Governments why did these organisations not help us through their regulatory powers?
With regard to gambling I think that we should have a look at the support which the council gives and supports across the city to problem gamblers.  It strikes me that the gambling industry looks upon the occasional fine or ex-gratia payment as part of the cost of doing business.  Perhaps we should be stricter, perhaps we should question whether William Hill is a fit and proper organisation to hold a licence within the city.  I will certainly be making the case for more regulation of gambling.
What we need to know is that lessons have been learnt and officers have taken all appropriate actions to protect the public purse in the future.


Protect Dundee's Fire Stations

Balmossie Fire Station
Kingsway East Fire Station

McAlpine Road Fire Station

Blackness Fire Station

I've called for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to protect fire stations in Dundee.  The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) arecurrently consulting on their future.  The consultation contains references to changing the fire station footprint.  Dundee City Council was due to decide on its response to the consultation last night but in light of the detailed amendments which I put forward they have postponed the decision until 14 May.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service consultation is incredibly short on detail and full of leading phrases. Who could be opposed to firefighters being given modern equipment to do their jobs, for example.  Worryingly though much of the consultation appears to be cover for cuts.  The headline issue is an apparent 20% pay rise for firefighters but there would be fewer firefighters and they would be doing an awful lot more than they do today.

There are suggestions that firefighters should respond to medical emergencies.  That is fine but it should be additional to the resources available at the moment through the Scottish Ambulance Service and the NHS not instead of it.

Most worryingly the document contains references to ‘reviewing’ the fire station footprint across Scotland.  The proposal put forward by the SNP Administration said that it was broadly supportive of proposals put forward by SFRS.  I was worried that this would be interpreted as support for changes to fire stations in Dundee.  On Tayside Fire and Rescue Board I was proud to have played a part, with others, in stopping plans to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station not once but twice.  I believe that Dundee City Council must make clear its opposition to any changes to fire stations in Dundee.  That is what I will be looking for when this item comes back to councillors.

Fr James Shine 100th Anniversary

A portrait of Fr James Shine in uniform along with a prayer card produced after Fr Shine's Death
The War Memorial at St Joseph's on Sunday
with floral tributes to Fr Shine and the over
200 others mentioned on the tablet
On Sunday I was pleased to be able to join the congregation at St Joseph's Church in Wilkie's Lane as they marked the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Fr James Shine.  Fr Shine had served as one of the priests at St Joseph's in 1914 and 1915.  Fr Shine was born in County Tipperary and was a priest of the Irish Diocese of Waterford and Lismore on loan to the Diocese of Dunkeld working in Dundee at the time he joined up.  He died in Boulogne on 21st April 1918 from wounds received whilst ministering to soldiers in his role as a British Army chaplain in World War I.

Fr Shine's story is one that should be more widely known.  Many people will be surprised to hear about this Irishman who volunteered to serve in the British forces during this turbulent time in relations between Ireland and Britain.

Whilst Fr Shine died 100 years ago I think that we should remember the sacrifice that he made. We should also look at that War Memorial at St Joseph's and the names of all those men who lived in the streets around the West End and resolve to do all we can to say never again.

As some readers will know I have studied the impact of the Irish on Dundee. In the course of that I was lucky enough to meet Fr Shine's great-nephew, Sean Murphy, who has done a lot to promote the memory of Fr Shine.

I would also like to draw attention to the excellent work done by the Great War Dundee Group in looking at all aspects of the First World War in Dundee.


Welcome for low-carbon commitment

I welcome the fact that Dundee City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee agreed to my amendment to commit Dundee City Council to redirect resources to low-carbon activities.  The amendment was to a report entitled Sustainable Dundee and the amendment sets a direction of travel for the council in the future.

I welcomed the Sustainable Dundee report which was before us, it covered a lot of important areas and brought together a lot of the work which the council is doing.  There was an excellent deputation from Mary Henderson of Friends of the Earth Tayside.  After listening to Mrs Henderson I felt that she had made a strong case for an amendment about the future direction of travel of the council with regard to low-carbon activities.

My amendment said ‘Where possible funds should be redirected from high-carbon activities to low-carbon sustainable and renewable activities and where funds are spent outside Dundee they should be redirected from high-carbon activities to low-carbon and renewable activities.’  This is about promoting a direction of travel for the council.

The council is the custodian of the resources of the citizens of Dundee and it is important that we are able to hand on the resources to our successors both in terms of cash, facilities and the environment.  I hope that this way of thinking will influence council thinking in terms of future policies.

I think that protecting our environment is important and I will work with anyone to help protect it.  It is crucial that we plan for a future low-carbon economy which protects jobs and services.  We need to invest in a workforce which is ready for this next stage of economic development.


Consultation on Car Parking Permit Scheme Essential

Let me be very clear I support residents’ parking schemes for people who live on the periphery of the city centre.  I know as a resident in the West End and a local councillor that people are frustrated that they cannot find a car parking space close to their house.

I am glad that at the meeting of the City Development Committee on Monday evening that the proposals put forward by the SNP Administration were amended.  The proposals put forward were designed to fail.  Along with my ward colleague Bailie Macpherson I amended the proposals so that there will be meaningful consultation on them.  I also think that it is important that the consultation includes the issue of cost.  The previous proposals were rejected due to the cost being too high at £80.  I understand that £62 is slightly cheaper but I still worry that it is too much to pay and still not be guaranteed a car parking place at all never mind close to your house.

I also know that as well as the cost people rejected previous proposals because they were a one-size-fits-all proposal.  The proposals before the council on Monday evening were a one-size-fits-all.  I think that the solution is for more bespoke fixes rather than a blanket scheme across large areas of the city.

My amendment was designed to help implement this policy.  The proposals suggest that the way to lodge an objection is by objecting to the Traffic Regulation Order.  This is not the way to gauge public opinion on this matter.  People who are in favour of residents’ parking scheme might object to the specific detail of the Traffic Regulation Order and therefore be counted as an objector to the scheme.  That is surely not what was intended.

 I am clear that in the areas near the city centre there is an issue that local residents would like to see dealt with.  Local councillors who I have spoken to all recognise that this is an issue.  I want to help the council and the people in Maryfield, Coldside and the West End wards get a policy that will work.

The report presented on Monday night says that this policy should be brought forward on a cost neutral basis.  That is not the policy of the council, it may be the preference of the SNP Administration.  The council has other parking schemes which do not work on that basis.  In Menzieshill there is a residents' car parking scheme which costs £8 per year.  I cannot see any justification that would suggest that the West End, Coldside or Maryfield wards should be different.

This is why I think that a full and meaningful consultation must also consult on the cost of the scheme. This committee should be presented with a number of alternatives.

Dundee City Council is currently pointing out how marvellous consultation is.  Dundee Decides is being held up as a great innovation.  I want to argue for more consultation on budgets.  I am also clear that this policy will fail if there is not a full and meaningful consultation on it.  Whilst I am pleased about the result of the meeting on Monday evening I will be watching to make sure that the consultation is as full and meaningful as it can be.

I would also point out that there was nothing in the report presented to the committee which aims to reduce the reliance on the motor vehicle.  I suspect all of us rely on the car too much, and I include myself in that.  I think that any plan for a residents’ car parking scheme needs to look at demand and find ways to reduce it.

I want to help Dundee City Council get to the point where we have a residents’ car parking scheme which works for people in the West End, Coldside and Maryfield wards.  I do not think that the proposal presented by the Convener on Monday evening would have achieved that and therefore I was pleased that the committee agreed to support the amendment put forward.


Welcome for plans to mark heritage of former St Joseph's School SIte

At this week's meeting of the City Development Committee there was an item which sought to name the street at the development of houses at the new development on the former St Joseph's Primary School site.

In the past couple of months as work has taken place to knock down the old building a number of former pupils have spoken to me about their wish for the history of the site to be acknowledged.  I raised this with the City Development Department asked for my views on the street name I made my view known that I think that it should reference the former use of the site.  Therefore I was glad when the proposed name suggested was St Joseph's Court.  I think that this will allow the history of the site and the over eighty years of education to be marked.   I am glad to say that the new school is going from strength to strength on its new site but I felt it was important to acknowledge the history and heritage of this site.


Welcome for Community Asset remaining in community ownership

On Monday evening Dundee City Council considered a report on the proposals to build an AC Marriott Hotel at Site 6 in the Waterfront near to the V & A.  I welcomed the report mostly because the council was retaining ownership.  This is the sort of thing that the Co-operative Party and people like John McDonnell have in mind when they  discuss things like Community Wealth Building.

I warmly welcome this report and want to stress how much the Labour Group supports Dundee City Council retaining ownership of the assets being developed at the Waterfront.

I think that it is very important that the council does retain an element of ownership in parts of the Waterfront.  That way, the people of Dundee will get some benefit from it.  It is important that the assets of the Waterfront continue to produce wealth for the community and it is good to see that the plan isn't to sell the assets off to some off-shore corporation that won't pay tax in Scotland, or possibly anywhere.

I hope that further proposals in Dundee will continue in this way.  It is a way of ensuring that some of the wealth created by these developments stays within the city and is of benefit to the many, rather than just the shareholders.


Dundee City Council Budget - A Missed Opportunity

Let’s start by being honest about what was before us at the Dundee City  Council budget meeting last week.  We had a deal which in January the whole council said was not fair for Dundee, despite the intervention of the Green Party it is still not a fair settlement for Dundee, for our citizens or for our workforce.

The blame for austerity lies in Westminster.  Austerity is a choice made by the Conservative Government.  It is passed on to Holyrood where the Scottish Government refuses to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their full extent and passes on disproportionate cuts to local government.  Dundee City Council is then left with a really poor set of circumstances which annoy councillors but which much more importantly have a real impact on the people of Dundee.

The staff of Dundee City Council do an excellent job.  I hope that workers do get a pay rise, but we must also recognise that even if the settlements are more like the Scottish Government want around 3% and not what the trade unions are looking for, these still are not fully funded which means that they will have an impact on services.  So we are in the bizarre position that a pay rise for workers means a cut in services.

I welcome the extra investment for vulnerable children in the budget.  I hope that it does cover the cost pressures because it is unacceptable that year, after year, after year the budget in this area has been wrong.  We need to get in right for these young people and make sure that they are given the best start in life.

The proposals put forward by the Labour Group were innovative and intended to use the powers of the council to make a difference in Dundee.  They were intended to say that poverty and inequality are wrong and that we won’t just complain about it we will try and do something about it.

Last week the council heard the case eloquently put by representatives of the workforce in social care about the problems they face.  I am glad that changes were not forced through and I am also clear that any proposal which imposes split shifts or cuts in hours is unacceptable.

Labour put forward a plan which would have allowed those social care workers to do the job they want to do.  Allow them to spend longer with service-users and make a real difference to their lives.  We thought that this extra funding could have focused on trying to stop hospital readmissions.  The revolving door is good for no-one.  We need to recognise that there is one public purse and cuts to the council which lead to extra spending in the NHS are daft.

We also proposed to bring forward a plan to give access to sports and cultural facilities to disadvantaged young people in the city.  This is a big year for Dundee with the V & A opening and a focus on the city.  With Dundee being lauded around the world.  But this must be a big year for everyone in the city not just those who can afford it.  We need to make sure that the regeneration of our city is for everyone and not just a privileged few.  The Waterfront regeneration will be an abject failure if it doesn’t help everyone in the city.

We want to see fairness at the heart of what we do.  That is why Labour wanted to halt the increase in the cost of school meals and at the same time invest in a fairness fund that would allow work to be done to find a means of delivering a good quality meal to disadvantaged youngsters all year round. 

A number of SNP councillors said that they thought some of our proposals were interesting but they could not vote for them because they had not had enough time to analyse them.  We offered them time at the meeting to analyse our proposals.  We are prepared to give them to the SNP administration because we think that they will make a real difference to the city of Dundee.  We are not even looking for credit for bringing these forward

We want to make a real difference and deliver a budget for the many not the few.